COLUMBUS — It doesn’t take much to see the frustration on Tony Alford’s face when the sixth-year Ohio State running backs coach is asked about the 2020 recruiting cycle.
There’s still frustration that he didn’t close on the two running backs that had privately committed to him. There’s frustration that he was excoriated in the media for those misses, because when it comes to recruiting coverage, reporting just one half of the story is almost a requirement, since coaches are unable to talk about uncommitted player even if they wanted to — which they usually don’t.
Tony Alford signed up for that, though. He knows it and he accepts it. It doesn’t mean he, or any other coach, needs to be happy about it.
“First of all, everybody has got an opinion,” Alford said on Lettermen Row’s Birminology during the spring. “We signed up for this. Nobody makes us do this job. And with that comes criticism.
“You just go do the best you can every single day. … If something doesn’t work, you go back to the drawing board and figure out where it went off the rails and how you fix it.”
One of the pratfalls of recruiting is that oftentimes there’s a focus on fixing something that isn’t really broke. A recruiting loss, or in this case two, doesn’t mean what Alford had been doing wasn’t working.
There’s a lot of evidence to support the contrary, actually. Since arriving in Columbus as Urban Meyer’s choice to replace Stan Drayton, Alford has landed commitments from running backs ranked No. 2 (2016), No. 7 (2016), No. 2 (2017), No. 2 (2018), No. 3 (2018), No. 11 (2018), No. 26 (2019) and No. 45 (2020). He also has landed commitments in the Class of 2021 from No. 2 (TreVeyon Henderson) and No. 5 (Evan Pryor) at the running back position.
A closer look at the anomalies on that list make them easier to understand. After signing three major prospects in 2018 and with many (at the time) expecting J.K. Dobbins to stay for four seasons, running back wasn’t a priority in 2019. Alford still ended up signing Marcus Crowley, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida. After the losses of Bijan Robinson and Jaylan Knighton in 2020, the Buckeyes — buoyed by the growth of Master Teague, Crowley and the emergence of Steele Chambers — abandoned the desire to recruit two running backs and signed Ohio’s top running back in the class, Miyan Williams, who ran for nearly 6,000 yards at the highest level of Ohio prep football.
Oh yeah, Alford is also unequivocally the reason that Trey Sermon chose the Buckeyes when he elected to leave Oklahoma as a graduate transfer.
“I had a relationship with Alford during my recruiting process coming out of high school,” the Georgia native told Lettermen Row when his transfer story broke. “He was a great guy then, and I just feel like I connected well with him.’
It’s not just running backs who’ve connected with Alford, either. He was the primary recruiter on Buckeyes tight end commitment Sam Hart and played a major role in the efforts to land defensive back Andre Turrentine. He’s recruited Tampa and Orlando for Ohio State, as well as Colorado and Tennessee to go along with Northeast Ohio.
In the meantime, he’s also helped produce the only 2,000-yard running back in Ohio State history.
It’s impossible to look objectively at the body of work that Tony Alford has done since he joining the Buckeyes and suggest he’s done anything but excel. There was no reason for his approach to change even with the struggles of last summer. He’s going to do what he’s always done.
“It didn’t change my approach one bit,” Alford said last month. “You go after the guys you go after and you think can help your program. You try and do the best you can to build relationships. That doesn’t change one single bit.”
Tony Alford has put the 2020 recruiting cycle behind him. It’s time for any skeptics about the Ohio State assistant to do the same.